Women’s History Month with Wendy Sims-Moten

By Joanne A Calitri   |   March 21, 2023
Wendy Sims-Moten, executive director of First 5 Santa Barbara County, at her office (photo by Joanne A Calitri)

To celebrate local women of history, this column dedicates the month of March to them – their contributions, their stories, their inspiration, and opportunities to support.

“Anywhere there is a woman, she is creating impact.”

This is the quote of a most accomplished woman whose career spans 26 years with the County of Santa Barbara (SBC) in various roles leading to her current position as the executive director of First 5 SBC, a program, initiated by Rob Reiner in 1998 using the California State tobacco tax via Prop 10 to fund programs that support the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development of children and their families. 

Her legacy reaches to her volunteer work as the board president and Trustee of the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board, board chair of the Gateway Ed Services, the Santa Barbara Education Foundation Board of Directors School Board Liaison, founder and chair of the African American Women of Santa Barbara County Luncheon, former Grants Committee Co-Chair the Fund for Santa Barbara, alumni of Emerging Leaders, St. Paul AME Church member, United Way Women United member, member of Santa Barbara Women Political Committee and Democratic Women of SBC, CAUSE Action Fund Board member, and the McCune Foundation Board and grant-making committee member.

Hailing from Texas, she has called SB home for 40 years. This week, we are learning about women leaders with Wendy Sims-Moten.

Q. What do women bring to leadership differently than men?

A. The innate difference that women bring to leadership is how we communicate. We listen differently, seeking collaboration and shared understanding. I would also add that women leaders today bring more confidence, boldness, and understanding of the power in sisterhood and that together we have a much greater chance to lead change for all women. We stand on the shoulders and walk in the footsteps of the women leaders before us, not just the ones that are public facing but the mothers and grandmothers who lead quietly. There is so much that women have that the world does not always see, that innate power of just being a woman. I bring the experiences of being beside my grandmothers and aunts, who encouraged me to know how to be present, respect the space where I want to go and be. Anytime we gather, there is power in the gathering, leadership being encouraged and nurtured. As women, we multitask in our minds all the time of how to be and have the ability of adaptability without the tearing down of people. Something magically happens when women are leaders, because we bring all of that perspective.

How can we inspire young women and girls to be leaders?

When we see leadership naturally happening in young women, ladies, and girls, we need to nurture and protect it. It is our job as grown women to establish space and spend time to foster what they can be, how they can be, what they need to do to go about it, and how we can best help them continue to be that. My mom always said, “When you do good, do it not for it to come back to you, but down the line to someone you know or love.” We must encourage and be there when they need our help. 

How do we as women have an impact? 

HD Video by Joanne A Calitri

Start with yourself. What did you do to impact someone’s life? Sometimes it’s just a simple smile, and sometimes it’s to sit and hear things differently, so you can learn it’s not about you. 

I want us to win as women, we’ve been doing this since forever, so let’s just elevate a little bit further, nurture the power we have as women, and allow our younger generation to shine. To encourage them to grow and be able to let their light shine, just who they are – “You’ve got this!” As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we have lots to celebrate, where we’ve been, and add more as we bring the young girls and ladies along with us. 

What meaning does Women’s History Month 2023 have for you? 

When I reflect upon Women’s History Month, I see it in some of the same ways that I reflect on Black History Month. I want to change the way we celebrate it. I know it is important to acknowledge the past and know our history; in addition, I would like to celebrate that we are better because of the contributions and work of those who have come before us. How we are honoring their work in the present time, what new and good history are we making going forward. We can increase the strength of the shoulders and shoes we stand and walk in for generations to come. 

Which women are on the top of your list and why? 

I was born and raised in Texas, and the women at the top of my list are: 

Harriet Tubman, Barbara Jordan, and Shirley Chisholm because they dared to make a better way and used all that had been given to them. There by the grace of God and these women through their words, thoughts, and deeds go I.

Last year, I heard Angela Glover Blackwell speak at a Stanford Innovation Conference. It was the way she walked into the room and oh, mercy – when she spoke, I instantly became a fan and knew that I needed to sit at the feet of this woman and learn all I can. She was intentional, inspiring, and she was knowledgeable! In fact, I hope to bring her to speak in Santa Barbara at some point.

What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do? 

The Mission and Vision of both First 5 Santa Barbara County and Santa Barbara Unified are connected, because the early and ongoing investments we make in our children change the trajectory of their lives and change the community. All of our children should be entitled to the best care and education from birth. On any given day, I have the privilege of being in a space of leading, learning, and taking action on issues that impact children, from birth to 18, along with their families. It is a joy and responsibility to advocate for investing in our children at the earliest possible stage, because the return on that investment is that children are happy, safe, growing, thriving in environments that support and nurture endless possibilities for them to reach their fullest potential. They are the future caretakers; we must take care of them.

Your advice for professional women is what?

Do not wait for others to ask you the questions, ask yourself the questions. And when the answers present, find a way. Do not take “no” for an answer.

What opportunities do women have locally to create impact?

I think there are many opportunities in the public eye for women, especially Black women, i.e., serving on and leading local nonprofit boards, running for political office.

When I think about every day, there are unseen things women are doing that make this community work and be strong. They are the CEOs of their home and families, everything it takes to run a business, they are already doing every day: budgeting, instilling hopefulness in their children and families, planning and making family meals, getting the kids to school, helping friends and neighbors, going back to school themselves to be lifelong learners, and more. Employers more and more are looking at your experience, what you bring in real life, and a different perspective in addition to your education. These are the unsung heroes, those who nurture and care without any fanfare or acclaim.

What experiences do you have specifically as a woman in your profession that make an impact on you?

Oftentimes, I experience people seeing me through their assumptions of who I am. Those experiences have made me more determined to be a more compassionate and empathetic leader.

Who are your female mentors, and their words of wisdom?

The majority of my mentors are elderly wise women who have paved the way. 

I am very at home when I get to learn, talk, and laugh with them. I am a proud alum of “CQG University,” my acronym for my great-grandmother, Cora Dee, grandmother Queen Esther (yes, that’s the name on her birth certificate), and my mother, Georgia Rae. There I was taught about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It takes work!

They shared many words of wisdom. What stands out is:

“Everything is not about you. Each generation gets wiser and weaker. Everything will be OK. Treat folks with kindness, not so it comes back to you but it may come back to those you love. Relations and Respect are key. Know how to care for yourself; it will keep you free from being stuck somewhere where you are totally reliant upon some else. I believe in you. Know who you are, you are enough. Follow your first mind and when you see trouble coming toward you, cross the street!”

What interview question would you love to be asked and your reply to it?

The question is: “What is a defining moment for you that propelled you forward?” 

I was told that I did not have enough education to lead. That lit a fire under me that has never gone out. It also harkened me back to some earlier advice: You don’t have to receive everything that is offered you. Believe in who you are, even when others don’t.

In closing…

“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”Howard Thurman  

411: https://womenshistorymonth.gov


Since 1990, via Public Law 100-9 with resolutions, the U.S. president proclaims annually the month of March as Women’s History Month.


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